By Mike Zhe
EXETER, N.H. — Phillips Exeter Academy right wing Brian Hart was getting all kinds of college and NHL interest last winter, during a season that saw him rank third among New England skaters in points as a junior.
Future teammate Matt Beattie? Not so much.
But as Exeter is enjoying its best season, record-wise, since its New England championship team of 1998-99, the 6-foot-3 Beattie, a Yale-bound postgraduate, is leading the team in scoring with 28-29-57 totals entering last weekend.
That’s even more than the Harvard-bound Hart (21-25-46), who was recently tabbed by Central Scouting as the 60th-ranked North American skater in its midterm draft rankings.
“No one knew who he was,” said Exeter coach Dana Barbin (Exeter, N.H.) of Beattie. “Over the summer he started going around to camps and then people started saying, ‘Whoa.’
“He sent me a DVD 15 months ago. I looked at it and said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ He’s been lights out from the first game.”
The Big Red are 16-2-3 after losing their second game of the season at Milton Academy on Saturday, 4-2. Still, it’s the best 21-game beginning to a season the program has seen under Barbin, who’s in his 25th year as coach.
Beattie’s ability has allowed him and Hart (Cumberland, Maine) to spread the wealth over two lines, where they’re surrounded by players like Matt Rubinoff, Alex Carlacci, John Cross and Michael St. Denis (Auburn, Maine).
“It’s been pretty darn good offense when you go through it,” said Barbin. “We probably have the most goals of any team.”
The Big Red haven’t been bad defensively, either, with postgrads Nolan Daley (Exeter, N.H.) and Tim Cooney (Rocky Hill, Conn.) forming an effective tandem in net.
Beattie, a New Jersey native, will head to Yale next fall, a decision he said came about after two visits to the school over the summer.
“I went up to New Haven earlier in the summer and really liked it,” he said. “Then all the college options started piling on me within like 24 hours. I decided to take another trip to New Haven; I got to meet Coach (Keith) Allain and it felt right. I thought that would be the place where I could challenge myself the most.”
At Yale, he’ll be reunited with fellow Garden Staters like Matt Killian and Kenny Agostino.
“Grew up playing against them,” said Beattie. “Their (club) team used to smoke my team just about every year.”
But first there’s this season to wrap up. There are seven games left in the regular season, starting with Wednesday’s tilt against Proctor, and then the New England tournament, which the Big Red haven’t been to since finishing as the runner-up to Salisbury School and current Harvard star Danny Biega in 2008-09.
“I think (winning a title) would mean a lot to our team, a lot to our school and a lot to each of our players,” said Beattie. “We’ve all played a bunch of hockey in our pasts and we’ve all done our own things; we’ve come together in a way that’s pretty special.”
New England prep school power rankings
1. Noble and Greenough (16-1-1). After beating St. Mark’s, 5-2, last Thursday, Nobles is unbeaten in 14 games since dropping 3-1 decision to Belmont Hill back on Dec. 3.
2. Lawrence Academy (12-2-2). A 1-1 tie against Belmont Hill snapped a three-game win streak.
3. Kimball Union (19-2-2). Brandon Cole scored the first two goals of the game as KUA ran its unbeaten streak to eight with a 5-2 victory against Holderness on Saturday.
4. Salisbury School (16-3-0). A 6-3 win over Trinity-Pawling last Wednesday was team’s sixth straight as it headed into mid-winter break. Six different players scored goals for Salisbury, which has now won 12 of 13.
5. Phillips Exeter (16-2-3). A 4-2 loss at Milton Saturday was the first for the Big Red since a 9-6 setback to Cushing on Dec. 4, but their schedule’s favorable the rest of the regular season.
6. Belmont Hill (16-4-3). Ryan McConnell stepped in at goalie and was impressive in a 1-1 tie at Lawrence that kicked off a 2-0-1 week.
7. Avon Old Farms (14-4-1). Winged Beavers have allowed a total of one goal in last three games — all wins — against Loomis-Chaffee (9-0), Choate (3-1) and Westminster (2-0). Big test against Gunnery Wednesday.
8. Cushing (16-6-2). Goals have been coming in bunches for the Penguins, who’ve won three straight since a 4-3 loss to Exeter.
9. Gunnery (16-4-1). Highlanders visit Avon on Wednesday, a great chance to make some noise on the heels of losses to Kent School (5-4) and Salisbury (5-2) at the end of January.
10. Albany Academy (18-6-0). Cadets came up empty over the weekend, losing to Brunswick (4-3) and Winchendon (5-3).
11. St. Paul's (12-7-0). Brutal four-game road stretch wraps up Wednesday at Milton Academy, after losses to Lawrence and Nobles sandwiched a win at Governor’s last week.
12. Berkshire School (13-4-2). Sophomore Craig Puffer scored twice as Bears bounced back from a loss to Salisbury with 6-2 in over Canterbury last Wednesday.
13. Dexter School (15-7-1). Few teams are playing better than Dexter, which is 5-0-1 in its last six.
14. South Kent (19-7-2). A Feb. 15 game against Gunnery should be circled on the calendar.
15. St. Mark's (14-6-1). Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Groton snapped a four-game win streak.
16. Choate (13-5-1). Wild Boars have cooled off after torrid early January, going 2-2-1 in their last five games.
17. Holderness (15-6-2). Francis Parenteau scored twice in 4-2 win over New Hampton Monday that snapped a three-game winless streak for the Bulls.
18. St. Sebastian’s (9-7-2). Game at Belmont Hill Wednesday a good litmus test to see what this young team can accomplish the rest of the way.
19. Kent School (12-8-2). Team has gone unbeaten in four straight games since a 1-0 loss to Salisbury.
20. Westminster (11-8-1). Still trying to find identity. Is this the team that kept Avon Old Farms in check in 2-0 loss last week? Or the one that lost 8-7 in overtime to Deerfield on Jan. 25?
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.